As Caterham’s F1 story ends, will Marussia live on?

1 Comment

Today’s news that the administrators put in charge of Caterham F1 Team are putting the remaining assets at the team up for auction has met a very sad reaction from the sport’s community.

That said, few can say they are surprised. Ever since the team’s final hurrah in Abu Dhabi, lead administrator Finbarr O’Connell has faced a race against time to find buyers for the flailing outfit.

In reality, it was a fight that he was never likely to win. If investors are desperate to find a way to get into F1 for 2015, then Marussia – who entered administration at the same time as Caterham – has always been the more attractive package. It may only have finished ninth in the constructors’ championship, but the prize money this brings does give it more value. It is for this reason that it is now preparing to exit administration as talks with buyers continue in a bid to get it on the grid for 2015.

Ironically, today is also D-Day for Marussia as the remaining nine F1 teams meet in Paris to discuss the future of the sport. They will get a say on whether the Anglo-Russian outfit – set to be called Manor Grand Prix in the event of a comeback – can return to racing. It has been stripped to the bare bones with many of its assets being auctioned off, but there is still a heartbeat. Caterham has flatlined and the DNR has been issued, it seems.

The debate surrounding Marussia does present something of a quagmire for three teams in particular: Lotus, Force India and Sauber. All three have encountered some kind of financial problems in the past eighteen months, and even threatened to boycott the United States Grand Prix back in November over the cost crisis engulfing the sport.

That trio was looking out for the smaller teams. That was their crusade. However, by welcoming Marussia back, they could in fact be spurning the chance for some much-needed income ahead of the new season.

In F1, prize money is awarded to the top ten finishers in the constructors’ championship (hence why Caterham, 11th in 2013 and 2014, is an unattractive investment opportunity). On the basis that Marussia were to return for 2015, there would be ten teams, so each would have 10% of the pie up for grabs – that is a base rate, of course, with further prize money depending on performance in the championship.

However, if Marussia were to not return, then the nine racing teams would theoretically have 11.1% of the pie each. An extra 1.1% may not seem like much, but that does add up to many, many millions.

And they’re much-needed millions for Lotus, Force India and Sauber.

Lotus was on the brink of financial collapse at the end of 2013, but has since been propped up by Pastor Maldonado’s backing from Venezuelan oil giant PDVSA. With the price of oil plummeting though, it is likely that any extra income at Lotus would be welcomed.

Force India seemed to be okay, given that it has signed a number of new Mexican sponsors ahead of the new season. However, it missed the first test in Jerez and will not be taking the new 2015 car to Barcelona, meaning it will have just four days of running before the new season. We haven’t even seen a picture of the new VJM08 yet, for that matter.

Sauber’s financial status has again been aided by the arrival of Felipe Nasr and his sponsor, Banco do Brasil, but the C34 car was noticeably bare of sponsors during the first test. It too faced financial meltdown at the end of 2013 only to fight on, and again, more money would be welcomed.

So what can these three teams do? Stick to their morals and fight for the little guy, or put their own interests first and help themselves to a bigger slice of pie?

This is the debate that will rage on in Paris today at their meeting. It would be tremendous for the sport to see Marussia/Manor back racing in 2015, even if it is with a 2014-spec car without a hope of points.

Should it also collapse though, we will have seen the new intake of 2010 – HRT, Caterham and Marussia – all disappear within five years. It’s a damning reflection of F1’s internal crises.

F1 is known as the ‘piranha club’ for a reason…

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night / DB3 Inc.

On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.

Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)